Have you heard about the Christian terrorist Robert Doggart, who was plotting a violent attack against a Muslim-American community in New York state? Probably not, because as opposed to when U.S. law enforcement officials arrest a Muslim for planning a violent assault, they didn’t send out a press release or hold a press conference publicizing Doggart’s arrest.
So let me tell you about Doggart and his deadly plan to use guns and even a machete to attack American Muslims in upstate New York. Doggart, a 63-year-old Tennessee resident, is an ordained Christian minister in the Christian National Church. In 2014, he unsuccessfully ran for Congress as an independent, espousing far right-wing views.
But don’t dismiss Doggart as some crazed wingnut howling at the moon. He served in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, worked for 40 years in the electrical generation business, has a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from La Salle University, and claimed he had nine “committed” men working with him to carry out this attack.
No, Doggart can’t be dismissed as simply a loon; he’s a lethal threat. That is why Muhammad Matthew Gardner, the spokesman for the local Muslim community in the Islamberg, New York, community that was Doggart’s intended target, explained to me, “Our community has been traumatized.” Islamberg is a hamlet in upstate New York, right along the Pennsylvania border, that was founded in the 1980s by a group of Muslims who left New York City to escape racism, poverty, and crime. Gardner added, “Our community consists of veterans, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. We are true American patriots, unlike Doggart, who is not representative of Christianity, but more like the American Taliban.”
The criminal complaint against Doggart, filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tennessee, paints a bone-chilling picture of a plan to launch a violent military-style assault on Islamberg, home to about 200 predominately black Muslim Americans. Right-wing media outlets have in the past made outlandish claims about the town, which have been consistently debunked by local law enforcement.
Doggart came to the FBI’s attention via postings on social media and a confidential informant. Why attack these Muslims? Doggart’s own words highlight his motive being grounded in at least partially in his view of Christianity: “Our small group will soon be faced with the fight of our lives. We will offer those lives as collateral to prove our commitment to our God.” Doggart continued, “We shall be Warriors who inflict horrible numbers of casualties upon the enemies of our Nation and World Peace.”
Doggart, who was also recorded via wiretaps speaking to militia members in Texas and South Carolina, didn’t mince words about his plans for the Muslims of Islamberg: “We will be cruel to them. And we will burn down their buildings [Referring to their mosque and school.] ...and if anybody attempts to harm us in any way... we will take them down.”
He also detailed the weapons he would use in the attack, including an M-4 military assault rifle, armor-piercing ammunition, explosives, pistols, and a machete, because “If it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds.”
Doggart expressed a hope that he would survive the terror attack, but explained, “I understand that if it’s necessary to die [in this attack] then that’s a good way to die.”
Doggart planned to travel to Islamberg on April 11 to do some reconnaissance. However, the FBI arrested him on April 10, before he could depart. Doggart was charged with violating a federal statute that makes it a crime to damage or destroy any religious property (or attempt to do so) and to use interstate communication to plan to injure persons. Astoundingly, however, he was not charged with any terrorism-related crimes.
On April 24, Doggart entered into a plea agreement, pleading guilty to one count of making threats via the phone, and he will be fined up to $250,000 and spend as much as five years in prison pending a judge’s approval of the deal.
It goes without saying that if Doggart had been Muslim and had planned to kill Christians in America, we would have seen wall-to-wall media coverage. Fox News would have cut into its already-daily coverage of demonizing Muslims to do a special report really demonizing Muslims. And few can doubt that a Muslim would’ve been charged with terrorism-related crimes.
One big reason for the lack of media coverage was that neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office put out a press release about Doggart’s arrest. In contrast, the FBI office in Knoxville, the one that handled this investigation, has posted press releases for numerous other recent arrests, such as for drug crimes and robbery charges. (My calls to the FBI about this issue have not been returned.)
However, when a Muslim is arrested in a sting-type operation, as we saw recently in Brooklyn, the FBI touts that arrest to the media with a detailed press release. We have also seen U.S. attorneys hold press conferences to announce the arrest of Muslims, as we witnessed recently with the six Minnesota men charged with planning to join ISIS. But not here.
In fact, this incident would have likely been ignored but for the local Islamberg community reaching out to the media. They even posted a powerful photograph on social media of the children of the town sitting under a big banner that asked: “Why do you want to kill us Robert Doggart?”
But here’s the reality: This will likely not be the last time we hear about a planned attack on Muslim Americans by right-wing groups. Alarmingly, a recent poll found 55 percent of Americans hold anti-Muslim views, the highest numbers ever recorded.
Obviously the images of ISIS committing horrific actions has fueled this sentiment. But Republican politicians like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindhal claiming Muslim Americans want to create “no-go” zones, where Islamic law rules, and other Republicans alleging that Muslims aren’t loyal to America has ginned up the hate to levels that take some to the doorstep of violence.
And there’s another issue of great concern here. If Doggart had succeeded at his attack and slaughtered Muslims, ISIS would have been ecstatic. ISIS is hoping for these very types of attacks, which is why they release videos when they kill Christians. ISIS desperately wants Christians to attack Muslims in the West so that it makes ISIS’s recruitment pitch resonate more strongly with young Muslims.
Even though Doggart has been arrested, this case is far from over. As the Islamberg community’s spokesman explained, “We will not feel safe until he and his co-conspirators are behind bars.”
The FBI should be commended for its work in arresting Doggart before he could complete his terrorist plot. But the FBI needs to publicize these types of arrests the same way as when they arrest a Muslim on similar charges and also not hesitate in charging non-Muslims with terror-related crimes. That sends a clear message that the U.S. government is taking these incidents seriously and that Muslim lives matter. Plus, it serves as a powerful deterrent to the Doggarts of this country. This not only upholds our nation’s values, it protects all Americans by undermining ISIS’s sales pitch.